Police in Brazil have arrested the treasurer of the country's ruling party, as part of their investigations into corruption at state oil giant Petrobras. The arrest could further threaten President Dilma Rousseff.
Workers' Party (PT) treasurer Joao Vaccari was arrested in Sao Paulo while he was heading out for a jog on Wednesday, officials said.
Vaccari wascharged last month
with corruption and money laundering in connection with massive kickbacks at state energy conglomerate Petrobras, Brazil's biggest company.
The controversy centers on a kickback scheme in which at least $800 million (730 million euros) was paid in bribes and other funds by the nation's biggest construction and engineering firms, in exchange for inflated Petrobras contracts. Part of that money allegedly went to the Workers Party and other parties for political campaigns.
More than 100 people have been charged in connection with the case, and more than 50 politicians are under investigation, among them two former chiefs of staff to President Dilma Rousseff.
But Vaccari is being viewed as the closest figure to Rousseff yet implicated in the case, and is certainly one of the biggest names targeted. The president herself chaired the Petrobras board during much of the time when the alleged corruption took place, in the 1990s, but she not been implicated.
Vaccari, who is alleged to have received donations totaling more than $1.2 million (1.1 million euros), denies any wrongdoing. A statement from the party said he had asked to step down from his post.
Police also have an arrest warrant for Vaccari's sister-in-law, Marice Correia Lima, under investigation for money laundering linked to the scandal. Vaccari's wife was questioned over a series of unidentified deposits in her account, that investigators suspect could be linked to the Petrobras scheme.
A federal police officer, Igor Romario de Paula, told reporters that Vaccari was ordered into detention because of his "criminal habits, recidivism, a clear danger to public order and because of the kind of projection he has, the influence of the job he has today and the possibility of his fleeing."
There has been a suggestion the arrest order was prompted because of fears Vaccari could influence the investigation. The scandal has seen Rousseff's popularity plummet.
More than one million Brazilians demonstrated in cities across the country on March 15 to demand Rousseff's impeachment.
jr/bw (AP, AFP)